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The tree of life

To find the first drop of olive oil, we would have to go back in time to the Neolithic period when man learned to extract oil from olives.

The olive tree, a small tree that was prized by various peoples and commonly found the Mediterranean region, is the real source of olive oil.

By 1500 BC, olive oil trade was booming on the island of Crete under the Minoan civilization. The Greeks, who probably inherited olive tree growing techniques from this civilization, associated such tree with the force of life.

Ancient Greek writings make many references to this tree and its fruit-- olives. In turn, the descendents of the gods that founded the city of Rome saw their first light under the branches of an olive tree.

As we previously mentioned, olive trees have been around for ages. Discoveries of fossilized remains in modern-day Italy and North Africa dating back more than 6 thousand years prove this to us.

This tree’s success becomes evident when viewed in terms of its longevity. There are currently olive trees in Palestine that are estimated to be over 2,500 years old.

Olive cultivation and picking

It is believed that olive trees were first grown during the Upper Palaeolithic era in the region of Asia Minor, while around 3000 BC they were already being cultivated throughout the “Fertile Crescent" (Middle East region). The Greeks and Romans, true proponents and producers of olive oil as well as experts at finding ways to use it, essentially spurred its expansion throughout Europe.

Later, the cultivation of olive trees spread throughout the Mediterranean basin through Portuguese seafaring expeditions, eventually reaching the Americas.

Today, the olive tree thrives around world wherever climate favours its cultivation.

It is a medium-sized tree that grows slowly. It only begins to produce olives during year five of its life and rarely exceeds a height of six metres, reaching full development after 20 years. Though quite sturdy, the tree develops in a dry sunny climate and has difficulty surviving in temperatures below 12º C.

The olive tree’s characteristics have been perfected over time to become the tree we all know today: the cultivated olive tree.

Olives were first harvested by hand. Men would climb trees and loosen the olives, which would fall into baskets held by women on the ground.

Another method used to harvest olives involved the use of poles, but this would damage the trees and the olives themselves. Later, a hook was used to pull the olives, but the emergence of machines that shake the trees marked the great revolution.

On average, an olive tree yields 20 kg of olives, while production of 1 L of olive oil requires 5 to 6 kg of olives.